Earlier this week, Darren from Big Red Network took the time to have a cyber sit-down with me and discuss the 2008 Nebraska Cornhuskers. You can check out my answers to his questions, and should check out BRN in general for a lot of good preview information about this week's game.
BOTC: How much does the linebacker situation concern you this weekend?
Darren: It's honestly not my top concern for the defense at this point. Sure, Cody Glenn has been a leader for the defense, but he's far from perfect. I am concerned about whether or not Phil Dillard – our starting middle backer – will play because that spot makes so many checks. But, the linebacker play in the last two games has been very steady. Tyler Wortman has stepped up considerably.
I'm much more concerned about our pass defense, meaning our front 4 and our secondary. KSU does not give up many sacks, so the d-line will need to play at a high level to get pressure. And our secondary – safety in particular – has been a constant point of concern. So, I'm much more worried about he deep ball over the top than about which linebackers we have in the game.
BOTC: Did you expect to have a shot at 8-4 in Bo Pelini's first season?
Darren: Almost universally, the results thus far are in line with the preseason expectations of 7-8-9 wins. Based on his reputation as an assistant coach – both at NU and other places – many fans expected to get to 8-4. The tough part is that the defensive problems were pretty deep seeded, and the league is very tough.
At this point, I don't think a lot of fans could fairly expect for NU to beat the 4 teams they lost to. The only one that sort of bugs me is Virginia Tech because that game was at home and they aren't a top 20 team. Sure, the blowouts to MU and OU were ugly, but few expected wins in those games. And, most fans consider our OT loss to suddenly much-loved Texas Tech to be a point of pride.
All other teams on the schedule were games that NU fans honestly expect to win. That meant 8 wins. And that is a fair expectation in these parts.
BOTC: As a follow-up to that, give me a Husker fan's honest assessment of Pelini as coach.
Darren: I'd say he's 100% as advertised. He's a fiery guy that focuses on defense and getting kids to buy in to his plan. For good reason, fans appreciate the amount of real coaching and teaching that happens in practice and on game day. The player development was lacking with the previous coaches. People also appreciate how he has helped and taught these kids to respond to adversity. He's shown courage after ugly losses, and his team responds to that.
Parts of being a head coach have been learning experience for him, and he has admitted that. He's never had to be the head guy before and that comes with new roles and responsibilities. His sideline behavior and stuff like that gets scrutinized. Other than that, I say he has demonstrated that he was a great hire.
BOTC: What bowl game are you hoping for?
Darren: I covet the Gator Bowl. For this team to play on New Year's Day against another "name" school like Florida State would be a great accomplishment. Short of that, I'll take anything except a trip to Shreveport for the Independence Bowl. That would only happen if we were 6-6, or even an "ugly" 6-6 with bad losses.
BOTC: We know A Boy Named Suh is a beast on defense, but give us somebody else who's going to have a field day running into our receivers and running back.
Darren: Ahem, the Man named Suh is a real war daddy. You can call him "House of Spears", if you like. Defensive end Zach Potter has shown the ability for making clutch plays, whether it is a sack, a blocked kick or am interception. He doesn't fill the stat sheet as much as Suh, but he makes plays when they count. Armando Murrillo is head and shoulders the best defensive back on the team. He's the one capable of taking away a threat on the outside. At linebacker, Tyler Wortman will need to continue to man the middle on a consistent basis.
Thanks again to Darren and Big Red Network for the Q&A.